After officially calling it quits in 2020, then announcing that it would return (but not in its sprawling original form) and showing on a small scale at the Geneva Watch Days earlier this year, the Baselworld fair—once the ultimate in luxury watch trade shows—as we know it is over. But its transition to a minor trade show player trails a silver lining: it’s absence has made room for more buyer-friendly watch fairs to take root and flourish (more on that in a minute).
For Baselworld attendees, staying in the city of Basel—even in an Air BnB—was excruciatingly expensive. Guests would often have to find housing in nearby Germany just to afford the trip, and trains back and forth only run until midnight. (As a veteran watch writer, I speak from personal experience.) And exhibitors didn’t fare much better. The costs for setup and booth structures were notoriously astronomical. And big watch brands have big watch teams, which means they’re flying their reps and PR reps in from all corners of the world, with each person needing a place to stay and a daily food allowance.
And did I mention that Basel’s restaurants would double and sometimes triple their menu pricing during Baselworld? Combine that with weak Wi-Fi in the venue, limited lunch options available in or near the fair, and the setup began to feel unsustainable. The first major player to pull out of Baselworld was the Swatch Group, which counts 18 brands under its umbrella. LVMH exited soon after, taking its tony watch brands Bulgari, Zenith, TAG Heuer, and Hublot. Anchors Rolex, Tudor, and Patek Philippe soon followed suit.
Where does the fair’s drastic downsizing leave the watch industry? Surprisingly, with more choices. The multiple fairs that have ascended in Baselword’s wake are generally smaller, less pricey, and more inclusive-feeling. And their organizers seem to implicitly understand that no one needs a watch. Not in the age of smartphones. Yes, the luxury watch market is white-hot right now, but the industry needs to focus on bringing in consumers and collectors of all stripes if it hopes to still be relevant a century from now.
Here are a few new watch shows that are ably filling the void Baselworld left behind:
The event—which began in 2015 and was started by Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons—has become a watch world phenomenon of sorts, largely because many consider it to be the anti-Baselworld (it’s inclusive and not self-important-feeling). The event is held outdoors at what’s known as The Gate at the DIFC with a number of tents and portable structures set up where different parts of the weeklong program take place.
Education and communication among the watch community are central focuses of Dubai Watch Week. Panel discussions covering a variety of topics, and including the most well-known names in the biz, happen multiple times daily at the event’s Horology Forum. Classes on everything from watch design to engraving to enameling also take place across the courtyard. Attendees can even bring their children to the event’s Christie’s tent to take part in a mock auction! Fun!
And did I mention that this event is not only free, but also open to the public? The organizers of Dubai Watch Week realize that watches are for everyone, whether you’re starting your collection with Swatch watches or own six-figure horological machines crafted by the most illustrious of independent brands. At Dubai Watch Week, every watch enthusiast has a place. (Oh, and the food choices there are spectacular, too.)
Watches and Wonders is the rebranded name of what used to be known as Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie (or SIHH for short). That fair, which was held yearly in Geneva in January, will no longer be solely centered around Richemont group companies as it was in the past, as brands such as Rolex and Tudor have agreed to exhibit there. The next installation, happening March 30-April 5, 2022, will feature 40 of the leading names in watchmaking.
But it is not just watch fairs that are changing to meet the needs of today’s buyers. Jewelry fairs around the globe are also upping their horology games. The September edition of Vicenzaoro saw the introduction of their new watch section, VO’Clock, which was a welcomed addition to their already thriving vintage watch area known as VO Vintage. The fair also hosted several speakers from the horology sector, including expert watchmaker Vincent Calabrese. And while COUTUREtime in Las Vegas no longer technically exists, brands such as Grand Seiko, Oris, and Bell & Ross did exhibit in their own villas at this year’s Couture show—and brands such as G Shock and Zodiac were mixed in with Couture’s jewelry brands.
Finally, there’s a New York-based watch fair that for the last handful of years (not including 2020 because we all want to forget about what did not get to happen in 2020) has grown in popularity due to the quality of its exhibitors, and the fact that they, too, are open to the public and offer a solid education program.
WatchTime New York is a two-day event that happens in October at the glorious Gotham Hall event space. The first night is open to VIP guests and members of the press and the second day, which offers panel discussions and tours, is open to ticket holders. In the past, the event has welcomed the likes of watch world luminaries Stephen Forsey of Greubel Forsey and Maximilian Büsser of MB&F. Still, the fair’s welcoming atmosphere allows for novices to rub elbows with some of the most recognizable names in the watch industry.
Top photo courtesy of @watchtimemagazine, organizer of WatchTime New York